Chapter 3

actualizing bodies, abstracting selves


The limitations on human movement produced by the restrictive nature of VR experience and representation have led, more recently, to attempts to produce different technical experiences of the virtual. Noting the restriction of bodily freedom that wearing a head-mounted display creates, MIT technicians during the mid-1990s developed the CAVE project.[38] The user and other participants enter a cubed room made up of 3-D sound and moving image. Instead of all of the cumbersome clothing, there are only slimmed-down head-tracking and hand sensor devices that allow repositioning of sound and graphics in real time on the four surrounding screens in relation to the viewpoint of the main user. In somewhat naïve adulation for this alternative "room" as compared to the encumbered VR platform, Michael Heim has suggested that a virtual environment such as this adds to and amplifies corporeal experience: "Because the user's body is immersed without having to adapt to the system's peripherals (heavy helmet, tight data glove, calibrated earphones), the CAVE immersion does not constrict but rather enhances the user's body."[39] More radically, the Canadian artist Char Davies has developed a VR interface for her works Osmose (1995) and Ephémère (1998) that senses both the breath and the balance of the user, deploying them to move in a floating form of navigation through her world of luminous and transparent 3-D images.[40] This, she claims, simulates the experience of scuba diving and facilitates a sense of both space and embodiment that removes one from the sphere of everyday life but not from the corporeal.


38. The first public display of the CAVE project was at the Ars Electronica Center in 1996, where the installation was opened to show artistic and scientific projects. It is an ongoing installation. For further information, see the Ars Electronica site: [link obsolete: aug 2013, site can be found at]. This contains a dynamic search engine through which information about the CAVE projects can be accessed.
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39. Michael Heim, "The Design of Virtual Reality," in Cyberspace, Cyberbodies, Cyberpunk: Cultures of Technological Embodiment, edited by Mike Featherstone and Roger Burrows (London: Sage Publications, 1996), 72.
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40. Char Davies, "Changing Space: Virtuality as an Arena of Embodied Being," The Virtual Dimension, 144–54.
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Last verified: August 1st 2013.